Introduction: Whose civility?

Sharika Thiranagama, Tobias Kelly, Carlos Forment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is an introduction to this special issue on civility. It asks what can anthropological insights contribute to debates about civility? We propose to understand civility as a “worldly concept.” We mean this in two senses. First, it is a concept that has traction in the world: a concern with civility and incivility can be found equally in public debate as in academic work. Second, civility is worldly in a more Arendtian sense. For Hannah Arendt, politics is about what it is between people – to act politically means to construct and enter a space which allows multiple people to be present. Civility is a concept that involves talking about how people relate to each other within non-familial settings and where people are fundamentally different from each other. We use the concept of civility as a lens that allows us to focus on moments where people try to understand what respect and restraint for each other might mean in the face of potential, and maybe radical, disagreement. In this introduction we begin to explore the key theoretical issues associated with civility, in order to examine the ways anthropology can benefit from these debates, as well as contribute to them. In particular, we ask the following questions: When do claims of civility move from a conservative stifling dissent to a radical call for change? When does civility move from being conformist to dissenting, and what are its limits? What are the specific histories that mark the ways in which people are civil or uncivil to one another? What are the cultural codes through which civility is expressed and understood?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-174
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2018


  • civility
  • dignity
  • respect
  • protest
  • violence
  • inequality


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